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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 17 September, 2014

Column: It’s challenging to get Irish people to go and see Irish movies

Director Kieron J Walsh says it can be difficult to get Irish people to watch Irish movies, but this is changing. Here, he discusses shining a light on suicide, how Northern Ireland is not all about the the Troubles, and why Irish cinema is on the up.

Kieron J Walsh Director and Producer

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, director of the new movie, Jump, Kieron J Walsh discusses his new film that tells the story of young people in Derry and why he didn’t want to shy away from the issue of suicide, something he says is at epidemic proportions on this island.

I THINK IT is unfair that whenever Northern Ireland is mentioned the first thing that comes into people’s minds is a bomb or a gun. There are so many people in the North, who live their lives just like we do – their lives are just as exciting or as mundane as our lives here in Dublin, or wherever.

Derry, in particular, it is a beautiful medieval city and there is a lot going on in it. But every time Derry is mentioned people always think of Bloody Sunday and that is a big shackle for the city to carry around with it.

Challenging perceptions of Northern Ireland

That’s what appealed to me about doing a film up there, a film that had nothing to do with the Troubles. There is an energy and a sense of humour that exists up there – it is very much a gallows sense of humour. I wanted to capture that, really.

For people here in Ireland who get to make a film here, which in the first place is very difficult, people want to make a very serious film or make a very serious statement about something.

However most people who go to the cinema want a bit of escapism, they don’t necessarily want to go see serious statement movies all the time. I think they want to be made to laugh or cry rather than to watch a statement being made. There have been a few movies that have broken out from that, I am hoping Jump will do that too.

Suicide in Ireland

In this movie, we deal with suicide. It’s important that a subject matter, like that of suicide, is dealt with respectively. The Foyle Bridge is known as a place where many have taken their own lives, the same way the Golden Gate Bridge is in San Francisco. This film deals with someone who has had a wobble in their life and they consider ending it all on New Year’s Eve and not going through another year, but ultimately the film is about not making the choice to end your life, and actually making the choice to live your life and make the right decision.

It is such an epidemic over here in Ireland that I think it is important that we highlight the issue. There was a screening of the movie in Derry and a parish priest stood up at the end of the film and said that he just wanted to thank me for making this film. He thanked me for shining a light on what he said was a very important issue that exists. I couldn’t have thought of a better way of getting a blessing, I never thought it would come from a priest, or that I would appreciate it coming from a priest, but he was right, it hasn’t been addressed in films and he is at the cold face of suicide every day of the week.

Most of my films are about the antics of young people, but this film was a really great way to show young people and what they are about – and to show what goes on in Northern Ireland is pretty much the same as any other city. They get into trouble, but of course this is heightened on New Years Eve and yes, there is death and heartache, but it’s the same antics that happen all over.

Competing with the US film industry

You have to commend the successive governments for getting behind the world of Irish filmmaking. We could always do with more money, particularly on the side of publicising new Irish films. It can be very hard to compete with films from the US, what with their communications teams, posters and billboards.

To compete with a US movie when you don’t have a movie star can be really difficult and that’s the type of challenges Irish films face when they have to go up against US films, that is if they even get into Irish cinemas. The support mechanism for making films is definitely here, the industry is healthy, it is more about getting the word out there about them.

I think there is a definite challenge to actually get Irish people to go and see Irish movies. I think people assume most Irish films are about priests, or loneliness, or the IRA – the escapism that they want, they don’t seem to think exists in Irish film. I hope we can change that, but once you get Irish people into the cinema to watch an Irish film, nine times out of ten they are delighted. It’s getting them in the door that is the problem.

Supporting Irish films

Irish projects can take years to come to fruition. The producer of this film read the play eight years ago, so it has taken that long to get it to the cinema. There were a lot of hurdles along the way , it was very challenging. If you think about what you got paid and divide it up by the amount of years you spent on it then you don’t come away with much. Perseverance is the answer if you want to be a film maker, you need to be hard working and never give up.

More and more Irish films are getting recognition abroad and I think it is because there are more Irish films being made. A gateway has been opened. I don’t think people internationally ever really thought about Irish films or knew anything about them – they didn’t really have a profile at all.

Obviously there are exceptions like,The Commitments, In the Name of the Father and more recently, Once. It’s these movies that have opened the doorway for many audiences abroad who may not have realised that there is another English speaking country out there making movies.

Kieron J.Walsh is an Irish director. He has directed many movies, such as, When Brendan Met Trudy, which was written by Roddy Doyle.He has also directed Kitchen, a drama starring Eddie Izzard for Channel 5 and RAW, a TV series for RTÉ starring Charlene McKenna for which he was nominated for an IFTA for Best Television Director. His new movie, Jump, is out now in cinemas.To view a clip of the movie click here.

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